Thursday, July 1, 2021

One of our primary responsibilities as a leading voice for animals in the nation’s capital is to influence congressional deliberations concerning the annual budgets for federal agencies where animal welfare is in play. We’re off to an outstanding start for 2022! This week, the House Appropriations Committee approved a number of our priority requests in its Fiscal Year 2022 bills covering the U.S. Departments of Agriculture, State, Interior and other agencies.

In the Agriculture bill and committee report, we secured striking gains, in great measure a result of subcommittee chairman Sanford Bishop’s, D-Ga., dynamic support for our priorities. We are also grateful to Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., and Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., who mobilized strong bipartisan support for animal welfare provisions. The report includes language encouraging the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to provide financial assistance to producers shifting to cage-free egg laying facilities. The committee approved an amendment offered by Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., to limit higher-speed slaughter lines instituted during the pandemic. Reinforcing the committee’s concern for the suffering of animals in slaughter, the committee also calls for robust training of inspectors on Humane Methods of Slaughter Act requirements and directs USDA to brief the committee on poultry plants that failed to meet Good Commercial Practices on humane handling.

There’s great news for horses in the budget, too. The bill provides $3 million—a $1 million increase—to clamp down on horse soring through better enforcement of the Horse Protection Act, and the report strongly urges USDA to reinstate the 2017 final rule that would strengthen oversight by eliminating the failed system of industry self-policing and the use of devices integral to soring. In addition, the bill renews the annual provision to “defund” USDA’s inspections of U.S. horse slaughter plants, effectively preventing those plants from reopening.

The committee addresses concerns about the steep decline in Animal Welfare Act enforcement of late, directing USDA to institute inspection-related reforms, to prioritize enforcement of the 2013 rule requiring licenses for dog dealers who sell online, to strengthen collaboration with the Department of Justice concerning access to evidence for use in prosecutions, and to step up the agency’s efforts to combat animal fighting.

Other funding items of note: the bill provides $3 million (a $500,000 increase) for grants to expand shelter options for domestic violence survivors with pets, and $9.5 million (a $1 million increase) for the student loan repayment program that encourages veterinarians to practice in underserved areas.

With respect to animal use in research, testing and education, the bill permanently requires that USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) laboratories be inspected by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to ensure compliance with Animal Welfare Act standards, and directs ARS to post inspection reports online without redactions. The bill also permanently bars the use of USDA funds to license “Class B random source” dealers,  frequently associated over the years with pet theft. 

The Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies bill and committee report also produced tangible wins on concerns for which we have long advocated. The bill prohibits importing sport-hunted trophies of African lions and elephants from Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Zambia, a significant step toward ending American trophy hunters’ slaughter of these most imperiled populations. The committee reiterated its concern that the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) trophy import permit process for African lions and elephants is inadequate to protect these animals as required under the Endangered Species Act.

In other good news for wildlife, the bill contains an increase of more than $8 million for FWS law enforcement activities to combat wildlife trafficking globally, including through law enforcement capacity building in other countries and detecting, deterring, and stopping illegal imports and exports of wildlife in the U.S. In addition, the bill proposes  an increase of more than $4 million for FWS’s Multinational Species Conservation Fund and the Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund, which facilitate domestic and international imperiled species recovery and conservation.

Importantly, the bill provides a $46.4 million increase for the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Wild Horse and Burro Program to implement a humane, long term management regime using proven, safe and humane growth suppression strategies, just as we advocated. There is $11 million directed toward research on longer lasting fertility control vaccines, and the committee has called for a Task Force to coordinate efforts across the Department of Interior to address wild horse and burro management. The bill includes prohibitions on sending to slaughter animals under the care of BLM and the U.S. Forest Service, as well as a directive to investigate possible abuses in the BLM’s Adoption Incentive Program. 

The Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies report also encourages the Environmental Protection Agency to reduce animal testing, increase its commitment to New Approach Methodologies (NAMs), and expedite its timeline for ending mammalian testing.

In its State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs bill, the committee tackles the nexus between wildlife trade and zoonotic disease, another focus for our family of organizations. The bill significantly boosts support for global health programs, biodiversity conservation, and programs to combat wildlife trafficking and poaching across multiple agencies. This includes monitoring of live wildlife markets and the illegal wildlife trade; prioritization of wildlife laws and law enforcement related to the commercial trade in live wildlife for human consumption; directives for Department of State collaboration with other countries, the United Nations, and international organizations to discourage commercial wildlife markets and the wildlife trade for human consumption; and increased federal agency collaboration across environment, health, governance, and agriculture programs to prevent zoonotic disease spillover at key human-wildlife interfaces.

Priorities of ours also appear in other appropriations bills. The bill dealing with veterans programs renews prior calls for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to advance its study on providing service dogs to veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and recommends that the VA use no less than $1.5 million for its adaptive sports program for equine therapy. The general government bill directs the federal government to use bird-friendly designs and materials in General Services Administration buildings, with the goal of reducing bird mortality from collisions.

As a supporter of our organization, you know that we often call upon you to contact public officials about important measures. In answering that call, you provide crucial reinforcement to the advocacy of our staff in Washington. Together, we ensure congressional decision-makers are aware of animal welfare issues, and we raise their commitment to advance them through annual funding packages. This year, it has really paid off; this is a remarkable set of provisions that will benefit animals and people for a long time to come. We commend the House Appropriations Committee for its embrace of animal protection, and we make you this promise: we will do our best to see these measures enacted into law.